It is now common knowledge that a White Paper has been issued for the purposes of amending the criteria for the office of the Elected Presidency (EP) in Singapore.
The bill of amendments will be read in Parliament and debated upon at a later date.
What is important to note that at the bill stage, which is where we currently are, in relation to the proposed EP amendments, the amendments are not yet in force. In other words, it is not yet law. Depending on the outcome of the debates in Parliament, it may or may not come to fruition. Yet, it would seem that most people already see it as par of the course that the changes will be implemented. Some even mistakenly think that the amendments have already been made!
What then, are the point of Parliamentary debates? Do Singaporeans have so little faith or interest in the processes of state? Is this lack of understanding or engagement tacitly encouraged by both the mainstream media and the government to ensure that laws it wishes to pass are brought in smoothly and without much opposition?
I do not wish to go too much into the fallacies of the proposed amendments. Writers far more erudite than me have already discussed this ad nauseam. All I will say is that the amendments do run the risk of pushing through legislation to ensure that certain “undesirable” but popular candidates will be barred from running before the elections take place.
The whole point of having elections is to ensure legitimacy of the office. Indeed, the Constitutional Commission appointed to make recommendations to the office of the EP was of the opinion that an elected office was important to ensure credibility.
However, if people are of the opinion that rushed legislation was pushed through to “disbar” certain candidates, will this not negate the whole point of requiring elections to lend legitimacy? Even if this was not the intended result of the government, they could run the risk of diminishing the credibility of the office of the EP.
While minority representation is indeed important, is the office of the EP the best way to protect minority rights? Let’s go back to the legitimacy point. For any election to truly be credible, the general public will have to be convinced that the best candidate won fair and square. Having an office safeguarded for a particular race can ruin the race by reducing the prestige of the office.
The best way to ensure minority representation is to even the playing field through education and prosecution for racist behaviour. At the end of the day, true representation is when all candidates are voted on merit and not race, religion, creed or sex. With all due respect, the tokenism of reserving a position with limited power for the minority races will not even the playing field. In fact, it runs the risk of implying that the minority races should only have fettered power even if that could not be further from the government’s intention!
Given that the EP has veto powers to safeguard our national assets, shouldn’t someone who has more of a common touch be eligible? A qualified person of high calibre need not be one who necessarily meets the $500 million threshold. Some of our ministers have not met this threshold and yet they wield more power than the EP will ever hold! The EP needs to be not just a well-qualified individual but also one who understands the struggles of the common man.
The proposed threshold of $500 million is far too lofty and risks the EP losing rapport with the man on the street. Will the amendments affect the EP’s ability to unify Singaporeans? Not to mention that the EP has to seek approval from Council of Presidential Advisors for any financial decisions, wouldn’t this make the qualifying criteria redundant?
I don’t doubt the need for government systems to be updated to stay relevant. I just wonder if the risk of these proposed amendments negating the peoples’ respect for the office of the EP is worth it in this case?
If it comes across as gerrymandering even if that is not at all the intention, whatever respect the office might have had in the eyes of the general public will erode and along with it, the office’s ability to unite.